The web has seen quite a lot of change since the first site was launched in 1991 (that site belonged to CERN, and you can see the original here). Designs, navigation, content, programming language, responsive capabilities…everything has evolved, and evolved dramatically.
Yet we all occasionally see sites that make us feel as though we’ve slipped back in time (for some real fun, go to an actual web Wayback Machine and type in the URL of a site of some major brand, like Pepsi then select a year and month/day to see what that site looked like on that date).
They still feature some of the goofy gimmicks that were hallmarks of a burgeoning new industry, but now are remnants of a time we should be proud to have moved past. These gimmicks, at this point, are annoying and will likely turn away some of your best prospects.
Here are the top 12 features NOT to include on your site (or remove if you’ve still got 'em):
Flash graphics and animations were fun at first; they captured viewers’ attention and showed what’s possible beyond text (Flash made the Internet more like TV). Now Flash is a bit of a loading nightmare. If you’ve ever sat through a long load – even a “clever” one like a glass filling with beer or an acorn taking root – you’ve been on a Flash site. Probably not for long, though; slower page loads result in increased page abandonment (40% of consumers abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load). What’s worse is that iPhones and iPads can't view flash and search engines don’t “see” it!
On the other hand, search engines love text, and your home page should have it. Your homepage is your front door…your first impression…your billboard. Don’t waste this space; use it to quickly tell visitors what you do and what you have to offer.
2) Flash/HTML Versions
Some developers give visitors a choice when they reach the homepage: would you like our Flash or HTML version? Don’t ask visitors to do anything before your homepage is presented; there are too many other sites that'll give them what they want immediately. And, while you understand the difference, anyone older than about 40 probably does not and won’t know which to select.
3) People Coming Out From Behind The Homepage and Walking Around
Some things were once done on web pages simply because they could be. Most people find a guy or woman walking out onto the homepage, interrupting their viewing with a welcome message or “great offer this week only” terribly intrusive (and a little weird). If you want to have visitors “meet” your CEO or sales rep, a video (one that doesn’t automatically start playing) is a much more accommodating way to do it.
4) Reverse Type
White type on a black background is difficult to read and slows comprehension. One study showed 70% of those who read black text on white had “good” comprehension of the topic, while 0% had the same level of comprehension of the same material (in fact, 88% had “poor” comprehension of the white-on-black type).
5) Glossy Buttons
You can’t swing a cat without hitting a glossy button; they’re all over the place. At one time (a long, long time ago), this was a quick way to give important buttons a little sheen to make them stand out as something in need of a click. It was also just a cool trick using Photoshop, so it became popular with web designers. No longer. Even Apple has changed its iPhone buttons to be less slick, opting for flatter, less glitzy buttons with only modest shadowing to give them some depth.
6) Weird Navigation
Navigation on the top of the page – or along the left side – is what the world has come to expect because it makes sense. It’s essentially your website’s headline and you shouldn’t hide it or make it a challenge to find. We’ve seen navigation spinning in semi-circles, floating on flower petals, on a dinner plate, lined up along a kidney-shaped swimming pool…these probably seemed clever (or even breakthrough) at the time, but convoluted navigation is a hurdle the visitor doesn't want to jump over.
Aside from the fact that your barbershop quartet or Deliverance-like banjo tune alerted everyone in the office that I’m not working, music is corny and distracting. The only sites that should feature music are sites selling it (and even then it should not automatically start when the page loads). Video that plays automatically is almost – but not quite – as bad. The decision to listen to music or watch a video should be your visitors’.
8) Rounded-Edge Boxes
Web designers seem to default to rounded edge boxes because it’s a “friendly” way to house content – copy or images. But it’s overdone and tired. A fresher approach is to be simple and straightforward, with clean lines and a more “form fits function” approach.
9) Home Pages With no Copy, Just Images
A typical Google search returns millions of results. If your prospects hit your site and don’t quickly find something that addresses what they’re looking for, they’ll go right back to search results to find a site that can. A home page is a critical first step in confirming for visitors that your site is the resource they've been looking for; don’t delay or avoid presenting your message then and there.
10) Sites That Don’t Work in Multiple Browsers
According to Pingdom and as of March, 2013, Internet Explorer has 39% of North American browsing traffic, but Chrome and Firefox (28% and 16%, respectively) are also widely used – perhaps by your next big prospect. Make sure your site is programmed to ensure optimum and consistent performance on all the major browsers.
11) Crazy Mouseover Effects
Graphic navigation buttons (kittens that purred, people who burped, semis that honked) were pretty popular at one time but fortunately your visitors have become more sophisticated. Text alone is more clear and direct and doesn’t distract from your message (unless, of course, burping is your message).
12) Other Silly Effects, Like Blinking Text, Bobbling Heads, Beveled Edges and Peeling Pages
If a feature doesn’t reinforce your message or demonstrate your expertise, get rid of it. When it comes to design, less is usually more.
In general (and there are always exceptions), stay away from too much of any style, treatment or gizmo that’s so “hot” you can’t wait to put it all over your website – retro typefaces, overly textured backgrounds, little flags tucked under a copy block, sticky notes meant to look real… all of these are today at risk of dying of overexposure.
Used sparingly any “latest” device is fine; when you grab on to those trends and use them in excess, you’re forcing your content to take second place. The point of having a website is to tell your prospects how you can help solve a problem. Say it simply, elegantly and powerfully – without bells and whistles that date your site and dilute your message.
Originally published Dec 13, 2013 2:00:00 PM, updated October 20 2016